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Nighttime Read: Pleasantville Mom and Teen Son Pen Debut Novel

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Their journey started more than four decades ago in a third-grade classroom

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When local authors write novels, and we’re looking to provide coverage, I’m usually most eager to learn what inspired them to tackle a process as ambitious as book publishing, as much or more so than hearing about the story itself. 

The back story of Pleasantville’s Deborah Notis and her teen son Jonathan Notis’s book publishing journey, culminating in an Aug. 12 release, did not disappoint. 

Like so many creative projects, this one — or at least this iteration — started during the pandemic. But the seeds for the effort were planted in or around 1978, more than four decades ago, in a third-grade classroom at Arlington Elementary School in Poughkeepsie.

I’ll let 16-year-old Jonathan explain the birth of Shipwrecked on Fudgepop Island in his own words. 

“The story of Shipwrecked originated when my mom was in third grade,” explains Notis, a rising junior at Greeley High School and a Pleasantville resident. “Her teacher, Mr. Chaput, assigned a composition every Wednesday night. His assignments often left his third graders baffled and crying as they tried to come up with a suitable story. My mom was quite fortunate, as my wonderful grandmother cajoled my exceptionally creative, brilliant grandfather to come home early on Wednesday nights and help her come up with a topic for these compositions. When Mr. Chaput’s composition topic was ‘You are shipwrecked someplace. Go!’ my mom landed on Fudgesicle Island.”

Decades later, following her father’s death in 2019, Deborah was helping her mom Betty clean out her dad’s office when she unearthed her initial childhood stab at “Shipwrecked on Fudgesicle Island.” 

“My mom placed her simple story into a folder, took it home, and put it in her desk drawer,” Jonathan recalls. 

The following year, when the pandemic hit, Deborah and her husband James decided to do what many of us did amidst quarantine: declutter their Pleasantville home, where they’ve lived for 19 years. In the process, Deborah once again found Shipwrecked. She decided to read the story to Jonathan and her three other sons, Joseph, 23, Aaron, 21, and Dan, 18. They had nowhere to hide from mom. Or, as Jonathan put it, “a reluctant but captive audience during a pandemic quarantine.” Jonathan’s competitive juices kicked in.

“I suggested that I could write a better essay about ‘Fudgesicle Island,’” remembers Jonathan, who, for full disclosure, has also written for us as an intern reporter. 

“My mother challenged me to do that,” he recalled in a letter he wrote to get the word out about the book. 

“After I wrote my version of Shipwrecked on Fudgepop Island, my mom and I decided to revise both versions together and came up with a more elaborate, colorful, and imaginative story,” added Notis, who was 14 at the time of the writing.

The result was the fusion version of Shipwrecked, where four boys wander away from their class trip searching for snacks. It’s a story geared towards children ages three to nine, designed to teach them the value of problem-solving and much more.

“Finding this story amongst my dad’s published papers on superconductors and main frame computers was particularly meaningful to me,” Deborah recounted, reminiscing about her father Stanley, who is the inspiration for the “Mr. Stanley” character in the book. 

A prolific writer herself for newspapers, magazines, and blogs since the early 1990s, Deborah is also the co-owner of GAMECHANGER Tutoring Connection, an educational consulting company. 

In earlier professional lives, she briefly prosecuted criminal misdemeanors as an attorney in the South Bronx, managed a publishing company’s copyright department, worked as a marketing manager at a financial institution, and ran her own marketing consulting firm. 

She also has a knack for raising great young journalists. Aaron, an Examiner intern in 2018, four years before brother Jonathan, is now finishing his final university year and is a senior copyeditor/former sports editor at Maroon News, the Colgate school newspaper.

“I vividly remember sitting at the kitchen table with him when I was eight years old, slaving over this homework assignment,” Deborah reflected in a mini interview over email, summoning the particular memory with her late father. “I was excited when Jonathan agreed to rewrite it, and even more excited when it became a project we did together and created a story about sharing, including others, and being open to new adventures.” 

The book is available for purchase on Amazon

Adam Stone is the publisher of Examiner Media. When not running local news outlets or chauffeuring his children, Stone can be found on the tennis courts at Mt. Kisco’s Leonard Park, on his Ipad playing chess, or on the floor cleaning after his two dogs.

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